From the outside, as an objective viewer, it’s hard really to put a positive spin on the European Grand Prix from last weekend. The race in 2008 was painfully dull but 2009 and 2010 were quite interesting albeit due to strategy and incidents rather than actual on track action. We all know that the street circuit in Valencia is one of the least over-taking friendly circuits on the calendar and normally, people wouldn’t have been so bothered. This season however, Formula 1 has totally re-invented itself and the racing has been simply superb with overtaking happening even in Barcelona !
I would have liked to tell you first-hand about the circuit this weekend but unfortunately we had a gearbox issue which stopped me even doing one timed lap so I’ll have to count on experience from last year to write about ! As a layout, I don’t mind the Valencia circuit. It’s not a classic street circuit like Monaco or Montreal, nor is it a particularly tricky challenge like Melbourne, but the heat does make it hard work especially on the Sundays.
Seb Vettel once again showed his class by taking pole despite aborting his final lap and then just dominated the race, doing enough to win but not too much to damage the tyres. It was a classy race in pace management and one that’s rewarded him with a championship lead enough to drop 3 race wins at least and still hold the lead.
The fact that Fernando raced hard and beat one of the Red Bulls tells us two things – a) once again the double world champion out-performed his car to get an extra 3 points and b) we’re not quite yet at a stage to panic and think we have another Michael – Ferrari period of dominance on our hands in Formula 1. Fernando’s hasn’t had a podium in Valencia from the previous 3 races held there and this time around he finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about with a typically charging drive. His relentless pursuit of the Red Bulls is just a master class in how a driver should never give up and his ability to push 110% every corner of every lap while having his mind on the strategy and tyres is a huge part of what makes him the asset that he is to Ferrari.
I thought Valencia was Mark’s strongest weekend of the year. For the first time he seemed to have a clean run through free practice and it showed as he got closer to Seb’s time than he has in recent races. On Sunday, despite some issues with lapped cars, the Aussie seemed comfortable enough to run in that lead pack of three – not really close enough to challenge Seb but always in the vicinity in case something went wrong. Despite Fernando pulling off a good DRS assisted move on him, the team used the undercut strategy at the second pitstop to jump back ahead. At the final stop though, two things didn’t quite go to plan – 1) Mark ran a bit wide coming in to the pits and 2) The swap to the prime tyre meant his outlaps weren’t great as the tyre came up to optimum operating temperature which allowed the Ferrari to get back in front. Still a podium in a normal dry race without safety cars, etc. will be a nice boost of confidence for the man who triumphed at Silverstone last year.
Mclaren and Mercedes-GP both seemed to have difficult weekends and weren’t really in a position to challenge the Ferrari’s on Sunday despite Lewis outqualifying both the Scarlett cars. It’s been an interesting sub-plot this year to see how the battle for second fastest team has ebbed and flowed between Ferrari and Mclaren with the odd cameo from Mercedes. The Brackley based squad is firmly fourth best I think it’s safe to say ahead of Renault, Sauber and Williams now but once again Michael Schumacher’s afternoon was compromised by breaking his front wing on the back of Petrov’s Renault when leaving the pits.
Jaime Alguersari was one of the stars of the race. Having been knocked out in Q1, he drove a great race managing the tyres on a two-stop strategy to haul himself up into the points. Yet again however, it was a good illustration in how having an extra set or two sets of new tyres can pay off massively in the race. The Spaniard was able to run on a strategy out of sync from the others and therefore slightly out of the traffic which helped to drag himself up into a points paying position. I’m sure there will be plenty of strategists from the other midfield teams in the pitlane looking at the pace and the strategy employed by the Torro Rosso.
The next race in Silverstone could be a serious demonstration of the power of the RBR car’s aerodynamic prowess. The high speed nature of the circuit rewards downforce and grip and there is nothing else on the grid that comes close to the RB7 in that department. There’s a lot of talk about the change in blown floor mapping and how this is going to affect the car’s performance but I would say anyone who thinks that will slow Red Bull down compared to the opposition is either an optimist or not very clued in ! Yes, the RB7 will lose performance but then so will everyone else and while the blown floor mapping does have a big effect on the car’s performance, it isn’t the only reason why the Ferraris, Mclarens and Mercedes cars haven’t been a match for the Red Bulls.
Silverstone’s a great driver’s circuit but it will be strange to go there and not charge down to Copse corner as the first corner of the lap ! There’s been a lot of talk about the new pit complex in the press and while it does look impressive, I find it hard to get excited about a building – what always impresses me is the circuit and how quick and enjoyable it is to drive at Silverstone ! The Maggotts – Becketts complex is one of the best places in the world to watch a Formula 1 car live and anyone who has a chance to get down there and watch should 110% do so sometime in life!